Fail, Survive, or Thrive

October 14, 2022 @ 12:00am

Several Healthfirst staff and I spent the past few days talking about sex. You heard that correctly, sex. In a space full of individuals who understood the importance of the conversations, who spoke open and freely about the topic, and specifically its impact on sexual and reproductive health. It was rejuvenating, yet worrisome because we are part of the minority.

Did you know that the average of a child learning about sex is 9 years of age? Any guesses on where that conversation occurs? At home? If that was your answer, you are incorrect. The conversation begins on the playground for a majority of our youth, “learning” from one another. Now I am not sure about you, but I know that when I was nine, I was not an expert at anything, let alone the topic of sex. But that is where and when the conversation statistically begins.

Another concept, that for some reason is so difficult for many to understand (or should I say acknowledge) is that humans are sexual beings. We always have been, and we always will be. It is well researched and well-documented that humans need to have touch and intimacy. Humans are not just sexually active to reproduce like many other animals. They are sexual beings for bonding and intimacy before reproduction.

With those two concepts grounded in both science and data (even though for some reason society does not like to believe science and data), we need to begin acknowledging that humans are sexual beings. And we need to begin educating our youth about this. They should not be finding out about sex on the playground. Parents and guardians need to feel empowered to start those conversations. And equally as important, we need to provide the infrastructure and support for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health curriculums in our schools.

Let’s teach kids about sex beginning with anatomy and physiology, so they know the proper terms for their body parts. Let’s talk about pregnancy and responsibility for caring for an infant if they do become pregnant. Let’s talk about pregnancy prevention in terms other than just abstinence. Is it an option, of course! But history tells us that when we tell kids not to do something, they are more likely to do it. Let’s talk about contraception, consent, identity, responsibility. And right now, let’s talk about STIs.

Is it sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI)? A handful of years ago, the CDC and several other entities pushed for the transition of disease to infection. Why? For two reasons: diseases are most often associated with chronic health illness and to reduce the stigma around the topic. So, although the names are used interchangeably, STI is more accurate to the infection trajectory.

Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, herpes, trich, HPV….all STIs….all have increasing infection rates. And I am not talking about small increases. I am talking substantial increases in infection rates. Why? Because we have stigmatized sex and have failed to normalize sexual and reproductive health, so people are not getting tested. However, again, humans are sexual beings, so they are still having sex-regardless of their disease status.

Our failure in society to normalize the conversations and healthcare of normal human activities has led to outbreak after outbreak and a growing epidemic that we have not been able to adequately address. And unfortunately, until we start having the conversations-the situation is not going to improve. So, I challenge you to have the conversation with your kids. Advocate for comprehensive sexual health education in schools. And establish care with your local reproductive health clinic for routine testing and treatment-in an environment where the conversation has already been normalized.

About the author: Jessica Scharfenberg
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